Time-in Before Time-out: Gentle Touching Sends a Loving Message

By Lisa Kosan

Hug“He was grouchy,” Bart Oliver says of his son’s behavior at breakfast. “If you asked if he wanted cereal he’d grunt ‘no.’ Do you want milk? ‘No.’” But instead of being drawn into the 5-year-old’s negative mood, Oliver opted for a loving embrace.

“I hug Colin for a long time,” Oliver says. “Then I say, ‘I’m going to miss you so much today.’

“It made a huge difference. Now he wakes up happier. He’s looking for that hug. He glows!”

Physical contact lets our children know that they are loved and valued, says Edward Christophersen, a professor of pediatrics at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo. We start this habit when we rub an infant’s back as he plays on the floor. But we forget to continue the touching as our children grow.

The next time your daughter slams her head into the corner of the table, don’t ask what happened or tell her to be careful. Just hold her and keep completely quiet. Her breathing will slow, her heart rate will slow, her crying will stop, and she’ll go back to playing. By not speaking, you empower your child to calm herself, gain strength, and feel loved, according to Christophersen.

But don’t wait for the next boo-boo. Throughout the day, briefly and gently touch your child’s arm, leg, head or shoulder for two or three seconds without saying a word. Touch your child while he or she is reading a book, coloring, building with blocks or looking out the window.

Gentle touching is done not because the child has earned it, Christophersen says, but because the child is treasured.

The Series:

Part 1'Time In" Before 'Time Out'

Part 2Time Out from Positive Reinforcement?

Part 3Less Talking = More Hands-on Learning

Part 4 - Tools for Kids and Parents to Use in Interpersonal Situations

Part 5 - Help Children Blow Away Anger

Part 6 - Gentle Touching Sends a Loving Message

Further Reading

Parenting That Works: Building Skills That Last a Lifetime, by Edward R. Christophersen and Susan L. Mortweet, American Psychological Association, 2002.

Lisa Kosan, a frequent contributor to United Parenting Publications, is an award-winning writer and the mother of two boys.